Workforce Housing: Rules Have Changed, Game Remains the Same

— from the Livable Communities Coalition

Jobs are scarce.  Houses are empty.  Why are we talking about workforce housing again?
Fair enough question–one the Livable Communities Coalition anticipated as it presented its study of workforce housing in DeKalb County to the public on May 24th.  After all, the plummet in housing values and scores of partially developed lots around the County suggests that housing affordability is no longer an issue for everyday working households.
So to get things started, the Coalition presented its point of view:  the lull in a once-frenzied housing market is actually the perfect chance to step back, assess, and plan ahead to accommodate housing for the people needed to make DeKalb (or any major urban county) hum–firefighters, teachers, police officers, recent graduates, young professionals, nurses, airline agents, even  seniors.
Turns out that was a no-brainer for the people in the audience, who understood a lack of workforce housing affects people of all incomes–especially by way of traffic congestion.  Workforce households generally  earn $33,000 to $66,000 a year in DeKalb–enough to own a reasonable home, or rent a decent apartment.  But DeKalb’s rather limited housing options for those working in such jobs often prevent them from benefitting as residents themselves, particularly without the high-cost barrier of long commutes.
So what is DeKalb to do?   The answer sounds more appropriate for environmental problems, but it applies just the same:  Recycle!
Considering today’s limited resources, A New Roadmap for Workforce Housing in DeKalb County‘s main message is clear:  Use what you already have! Comparing DeKalb’s existing issues against its desire to decrease traffic, attract business, and adapt to changing socio-economic realities (such as an aging housing stock, retiring baby boomers, tighter credit, and higher gasoline prices) some of the report’s recommendations include: 
·       Invest in housing rehabilitation programs that educate and support homeowners and landlords on home maintenance and repair, so workforce units are not lost to decline.
·       Incentivize workforce housing construction around some of DeKalb’s most valuable but under-utilized assets:  its MARTA stations.
·       Provide down-payment and home rehabilitation assistance programs for qualified workforce families but require this assistance to be repaid for re-use by others.
·       Establish a land bank so that abandoned properties can be revitalized for workforce households.
The report, numbering over 100 pages, contains many other recommended strategies, and will be presented to the DeKalb Coutny commissioners on June 15.  Look out for it on the Coalition’s website in the coming weeks.

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